Monday, June 28, 2010

Dodgers vs. Yankees: Elizabeth's First Dodgers Game

Despite the way I feel about the Dodgers these days - basically nothing - there is nothing better than a summer game in Dodger Stadium. And 5PM is the perfect start time. Elizabeth has lived here for more than two years and, although we have been to several Angels and Quakes games, we have never been to Dodger Stadium together.

She loves the Yankees. Yes, this is perhaps her biggest flaw, but I can't say I blame her. (I mean, I love the Lakers; I can understand people calling that my biggest flaw.) She grew up in New York, going to Yankees games with her dad. She was born during a Yankees game and it took a while to find her dad because he was off watching the Yankees. She went to school in New York City (Fordham University - just like Vin Scully) and the Yankees won the World Series 3 of the 4 years she was in college. She can't help it.

So, with the Yankees coming to Dodger Stadium for the first time in years, I knew we had to go. In a typical Dodgers move, they did not sell tickets to this series unless you bought a season ticket plan of some kind, so tickets weren't the easiest to get. But my friend Tim came through and was able to get us two tickets on the field level.

I have a Dodgers hat and I like to wear it when I really want to cheer for the Dodgers - basically, when they play the Giants, Red Sox or Yankees. But I wasn't sure where the hat was. I looked for it for quite a while, then decided maybe it was at my parents' house, so we went over there. Sure enough, it was there - buried in a duffel bag back on a shelf in a closet. I put it on.

"I thought you didn't like the Dodgers," my mom commented.

This is a common misconception amongst my friends. It's not that I don't like them - although I did hate them when I was a kid - it's just that I used to have a lot of fun going to Dodgers games when I was a teenager, and I actually did like them. But too much has changed with the team in the last decade and I hardly ever go to games anymore. I liked cheering for Piazza and Karros and Chan Ho and Nomo. There hasn't been anybody on the Dodgers whom I have wanted to cheer for in the last few years.

My dad told us that he had stopped by Philippe's to get sandwiches on Friday night and the place was packed with people going to the game. One guy was trying to sell an extra ticket that he didn't need.

"He was only asking face value for a ticket in the Loge level," my dad exclaimed. "And it was fifty dollars! I had no idea you had to pay that much for a ticket these days."

Instead of dealing with the parking, we took the Gold Line down to Union Station and the free (as long as you have a ticket) shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium. This was spectacular; I don't know why anyone would do it differently. Ten minutes after boarding the bus at Union Station we were dropped off in center field about 300 feet from our gate.

We sat in our seats for a few minutes and I ate some garlic fries. They were full of garlic but not very warm. This could have been a great stadium food, but it was not. We had 45 minutes until the game started, so we walked around a bit.

I wish I could have seen Koufax pitch: 4 no-hitters and 3 Cy Young Awards, when he won the pitching triple crown each year.

At least we knew where we weren't going to eat...

Andy Pettitte: Elizabeth's favorite Yankee of the last 15 years. She was lucky enough to see him pitch and, since it was at the Dodgers, see him bat. He actually put down a pretty good bunt.

Elizabeth wearing the shirt of her favorite Yankee of all time: Don Mattingly. More than any other team I can think of, when you see Yankees fans they are often wearing jerseys and shirts of their former players. (Well, almost every girl between the ages of 12 and 35 is wearing a Jeter jersey, but the others often have older players.)

"It's funny," Elizabeth said, "how many people are wearing jerseys of past Yankee greats."

"Yeah," I said, "and Don Mattingly."

This is somewhat unfair, although I often like to make fun of her love for Donnie Baseball. He was a great player, but one fact remains: the Yankees played in the World Series in 1981. Mattingly came up with the Yankees in 1982. They did not play in the World Series for his entire 14 year career. They did not even make the playoffs for 13 years. Then he retired after the 1995 season. The next year, 1996, the Yankees won the World Series, the first of four championships in 5 years.

My Dodger Dog: mustard, relish, onions.

Elizabeth's first Dodger Dog: only a little mustard. Simplicity.

Elizabeth's $10 Budweiser. At Yankee Stadium I once paid $11 for a Miller Light, so I guess this was a "deal."

The reason I think 5PM is the perfect start time in the summer: it's an afternoon game, then everything in Chavez Ravine turns golden and it's an evening game, and then it becomes a night game. Well, it would have been for us, except....

We left after the 8th inning with the Dodgers up 6-2. Elizabeth was sick of the way the Yankees were playing. "They can't come back," she said. I was just plain sick - I had a headache from the out-of-control fans of both teams screaming insults back and forth at one another in our section. A girl a couple rows back was actually going hoarse from screaming "Yankees suck!" I guess that's fun for a lot of people. I hate to be the grumpy old man, but I would rather relax and watch a ballgame, cheering when my team does something good and reserving boos for only the most deserving of instances. Like whenever ARod bats.

So we took the Dodger Express bus back to Union Station and the Gold Line home, and got back just in time to see the last out of the 9th inning - it was now a tie game. The Yankees scored twice more in the 10th and won the game. Oh well. For the most part it was a great time at the ballpark, and Elizabeth loved her first trip to Dodger Stadium.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lucille's Smokehouse Bar B Que

Lucille's Smokehouse Bar B Que
7411 Carson Blvd
Long Beach, CA 90808

Almost exactly five years ago, I had just returned from a vacation to Memphis in May with my friends Hatcher and Min. Although Memphis in May encompasses several weekends of festivals, the one we went to probably will not come as much of a surprise to you: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. I ate barbecue for every meal save two: 1) a deep fried hamburger at Dyer's, the legendary Beale Street joint where all beef patties are fried in a vat of oil, an oil they have not changed in 98 years, and 2) a chicken gyro sandwich one afternoon when Min declared we needed to "eat something healthy." I have no idea what gave her that idea.

That chicken sandwich, from a chain called Zoƫ's Kitchen, was actually fantastic, although not entirely in keeping with the spirit of the trip. Nor in keeping with the spirit of Memphis, I suppose: the restaurant has gone out of business. This does not surprise me, as most things on the menu were pretty healthy. I am not one for souvenir t-shirts but I have one from that trip that I love. It has the Memphis in May logo on the front and on the back it reads: "Memphis, the 4th Fattest City in America. We Won't Rest Until We're #1"

When I got back from that trip I abstained from barbecue for a long time. Okay, it was only 48 hours. But it seemed like a long time for me. A couple weekends later my buddy Troy invited me down to see his new place in Long Beach and take me out for barbecue. We went to Lucille's in the Belmont Shore section of town.

"This may not compare to what you just ate in Memphis," he said, "but I really like this place. I'm anxious to know your thoughts."

This was a gorgeous afternoon and the restaurant was packed, as indeed all of Long Beach seemed to be. We took a table in the bar - the only table in the house for which there was not a wait - and drank a couple cold beers while watching the Angels beat up the Red Sox 13-6. (I actually just looked up the box score from that game to double check my memory; not only am I correct, but it turns out that was five years ago to the day. Funny.)

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich that day, realizing even at the time that was probably going to be a disappointment. I mean, in the last three weeks I had eaten pulled pork at some of the most hallowed names in barbecue: Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, Corky's, Central BBQ. (I even had a pulled pork sandwich on President Clinton Ave in Little Rock on the way to Memphis, just after visiting the Clinton Library, that was almost the equal of those Memphis sandwiches.)

What surprised me was that the pulled pork sandwich I had that day at Lucille's was awesome. Speckled with smoke ring and served on a soft bun, it was unquestionably the best barbecue sandwich I had ever had from a chain in California.

I never went back to that Lucille's, but I have been to the one in Rancho Cucamonga (in Victoria Gardens) several times since then, and have never had a sandwich that came close to the Belmont Shore sandwich. So a couple years ago I kind of gave up on Lucille's. It was always good, but not worth fighting the always-present crowds, higher than average prices, and inconsistent quality.

Yesterday I had the day off and volunteered to go with my mom down to Newport Beach - she was picking up something she needed for work and this way we could go in the carpool lane. A few miles north of Long Beach we both were hungry. I suggested going to Lucille's, and she agreed. This is not the same one I went to 5 years ago in the Belmont Shore section of Long Beach, this is right off the 605 Freeway.

We got a booth right away and both ordered iced teas. Served in a Mason jar, this was one of the better restaurant iced teas I have had in a while. The menu at Lucille's is big, not to mention several lunch specials, but I decided to get my usual pulled pork sandwich. My mom ordered a half a ham sandwich and cup of chowder, and we ordered some Dixie egg rolls to start.

Dixie egg rolls have always been my favorite appetizer here: diced chicken, andouille sausage, grilled corn, greens and cheese, all stuffed into an egg roll wrapper and fried. They are very good, although the fruit sauce they are served with is a little too sweet so I only use it sparingly, instead opting for the Memphis barbecue sauce.

There are three bottles of barbecue sauce on the table: Original, Hot and Spicy, and Memphis. The Original is disgustingly sweet: it tastes of molasses and honey and not much else. The Hot and Spicy is decent but not really hot or spicy. It's more of a regular barbecue sauce with a tiny amount of spice thrown in. The Memphis sauce is my favorite of the bunch. It's not anything fancy - ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and vinegar - and to be honest I don't recall ever having a sauce in Memphis that tasted like this, but it's tasty.

My pulled pork sandwich looked very good when it arrived, served on a fresh potato bun. Plenty of the pieces of pork were tipped with smoke ring and, once I removed a pretty large piece of fat, it was a good sandwich, except for one thing: it had mayonnaise on it. I don't like when restaurants put mayo on barbecue - it's just an attempt to hide the flavor - but at least they usually alert you to the fact. Lucille's menu claimed the pork came with a "Creole mustard sauce" which sounded good to me. But this was just mayo. It added nothing and made it impossible for me to call the sandwich anything other than slightly-better-than-average.

I tried some of the corn chowder. It was a Southern-style, with pieces of ham in it and overall much thinner than any version I have ever had. For a warm late-spring day it was quite nice, although I think I prefer the thicker style that you usually find. I did not try any of the ham sandwich but my mom liked it a lot, the ham being marinated in Coca Cola and molasses before being smoked.

I am glad I returned to Lucille's after a few years, and I like the place, but it is nothing too special. All of the locations are beautifully decorated, but the large menu makes it impossible to specialize in any one thing. It's much better than most chain restaurants, but it pales in comparison to my favorite small barbecue joints like Bludso's or Perdue's.